The Honorable Patricia McGovern, a six-term Massachusetts State Senator, and the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, reflected on her long political career and her struggles and successes as a woman in the male dominated Massachusetts legislature at a recent public lecture at the UMass Club. Her talk was presented as part of the Fellowship Program for Distinguished Public Service Leaders launched earlier this year by the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy based at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston.
Remarking on the recent election, McGovern emphasized that she maintained her respect for the office of the president, but noted that an agenda is needed that can “move society forward.” She said that her own political aspirations began early: as a young student at Suffolk Law School, her sole ambition was “to walk across the street” to the Massachusetts State House.
McGovern described her responses to several experiences of overt sexism. As new Senators were being introduced to a male treasury official, he greeted each using their title, Senator, but when he got to her, he only said, “Hi Pat.” She made it clear that this was not acceptable and later the Senate President called her in and assured her it would not happen again.
McGovern also stressed that in her experience, positive relations and bipartisanship helped the Senate to function. She recounted that after one particularly contentious debate with a Republican, they were able to joke about the exchange and remain cordial.
Encouraging women to consider political office, McGovern urged them to “take the risk, give it a chance—if you lose, at least you can say that I tried.” She said, “It takes courage to run; it takes courage to ask someone to vote for you.” She told them not to be deterred “by the foolishness we see today.” Everyone can make a difference, she said, wherever they are: “We can all be leaders in our own way every day--push the envelope.”
Following McGovern’s talk, a panel consisting of Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, Judge Mary Beth Heffernan, and the Honorable Susan Tracy responded. Senator Forry said that she may sometimes be the only woman--and the only woman of color--in the room: “But you need to tell yourself that you’ve earned your place there.” Susan Tracy told the audience that if they run and lose an election, “You may learn a lot more than if you win.” All three panelists encouraged women to get more involved in the political process and civic life.
In her welcome remarks, CWPPP director Ann Bookman said, “The need for women’s public leadership and commitment to public service has never been more urgent.” She explained that CWPPP’s Fellowship Program for Distinguished Leaders program was established “to honor and preserve the legacy of experienced women leaders who have had distinguished careers in either the public sector or the nonprofit sector and to address the under-representation of women in politics and public life by building a diverse, inter-generational pipeline.”